Video: Rickshaw ride in Dhaka, Bangladesh

More on my recent Bangladesh trip: Here’s a one-minute video (embedded below) that I recorded while riding in a cycle rickshaw in the capital, Dhaka.

As you’ll see, the metropolis teems with activity. In the video, you can hear honking horns and people talking. And then, when we come to a stop, you’ll notice some curious onlookers.

Previous Bangladesh posts:


Mobile phones in Bangladesh

Here’s another image from my recent Bangladesh trip that I wanted to share. This photo is part of the “Faces of Bangladesh” photoset I mentioned yesterday, though I didn’t include it in yesterday’s post.

The faces of Bangladesh

Consider this: In 2009, even dock workers in Bangladesh own mobile phones equipped with cameras.

I was exploring Sadarghat, Dhaka’s riverfront area, a place crowded with passenger ferries and cargo ships. I was taking pictures and talking to folks when I noticed a cluster of people gathered behind me. I turned around to find that these guys (pictured above) were snapping cell phone photos of me.

In Bangladesh — one of the world’s poorest countries — nearly half of the population lives on less than 1 US dollar per day. But mobile phone penetration has grown rapidly in recent years.

I was able to purchase, for example, a SIM card and plenty of minutes from a Grameenphone (Bangladesh mobile operator) counter at the airport in Dhaka. SIM cards are available for purchase throughout Asia, of course, but Bangladesh sees few tourists. And throughout the country, many people sported cell phones; I was frequently asked to pose for cell phone photos, and I even a noticed a few people recording cell phone videos of me.

I also found the mobile reception throughout the country to be excellent; I didn’t suffer a single dropped call in eight days, as I might have if I were traveling in the US. (On the down side, I was supposed to receive MMS support via Grameenphone — a service not often provided with pre-paid plans — but that support didn’t materialize.)

For more on cell phone usage in Bangladesh, you can find an article from the IDA (International Development Association) on the World Bank site.

And the Wikipedia page for Grameenphone founder Iqbal Quadir contains more info on technology and development in Bangladesh.


The faces of Bangladesh

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently returned to Bangkok after eight memorable days in Bangladesh. Here are some images I snapped during the trip. The entire photoset of 14 images is on Flickr here.

The faces of Bangladesh
A laborer in Dhaka

The faces of Bangladesh
A man playing a horn in downtown Dhaka

The faces of Bangladesh
A man at a market

The faces of Bangladesh
Looking out at the countryside

The faces of Bangladesh
A man in Dhaka

The faces of Bangladesh
A boy in Dhaka

The faces of Bangladesh
Shop clerks

Again, the full photoset is on Flickr here.


Audio Slide Show: Kolkata (Calcutta), India

A and I are back in Bangkok now after four exceptional days in Kolkata (Calcutta) India.

Here’s a 2 minute, 20 second audio slide show I’ve put together with some images and sounds I captured in the city. ((My previous audio slide shows about anti-government protests here in Bangkok can be found here and here.))

For more images, you can find 35 photos from our trip in this Flickr set.

(Note: Those of you reading this via my rss feed will need to click through to view the audio slide slow on my site.)


The best Thai restaurants in Washington, DC

Tyler Cowen ((Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University and blogs at Marginal Revolution.)) has recently updated his amazingly comprehensive Washington, DC Ethnic Dining Guide, in which he lists the city’s best international restaurants.

A few Thai restaurants that Cowen lists under “Some Places You Must Try” — regardless of cuisine — caught my eye.

First, there’s a place called Thai X-ing, which is located a few blocks from where I used to live, in DC’s Ledroit Park neighborhood. I have a vivid memory of stumbling upon this tiny establishment in 2005. It’s excellent. Here’s what Cowen says:

Thai X-ing, 515 Florida Ave., 202-332-4322, no lunch,

All take-out, but this place is becoming legendary. One table, four chairs. One guy cooks for you. You need to call in your order in advance. The drunken noodles and the curries are superb. The salmon is awesome, the larb too. Quirky décor, mostly designed by the chef/owner. Here is one good review: Here is the menu: Patrons are advised to call in advance to avoid long waits.

And second, there’s Ruan Thai. I haven’t eaten here, but coincidentally, I met a Thai family in DC when I was there in April and they told me it was their personal favorite Thai restaurant in the metro area. Here’s Cowen:

Ruan Thai, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-0075, not so far from Rt.29 and University Blvd.

My Thai restaurant of choice in Maryland. Not just the usual stuff. Fresh ingredients, and truly spicy. When it comes to ordering, you can’t go wrong. This place is exactly what a Thai restaurant should aspire to be.

And finally, I am less enthusiastic about Duangrats. I know people who swear by it, but I find the somewhat upscale atmosphere at odds with what I consider to be the true nature of Thai food as it’s typically consumed here: that is, in an informal setting (often eaten in the street or purchased from food vendors and taken home):

Duangrat’s, 5878 Leesburg Pike, Bailey’s Crossroads, 820-5775, usually open.

Gourmet Thai at reasonable prices. The ruling mainstream Thai restaurant in this area. There is another branch of the same restaurant, with a slightly different menu, right next door, called Rabieng’s. Has more modern decor than Duangrat’s, but fewer offerings, although I am told you can still order off the Duangrat’s menu. It used to be that every dish here was great, then for a while it turned spottier. Now it has been reinvigorated. It remains not fully consistent but the best dishes are better than ever and the menu is more innovative than ever before. The weekend “Thai tapas” are especially fun. Go, and go often.

Bonus commentary: several years ago, upon suffering a hankering for Ecuadorian food, I ventured to La Choza Grill, Cowen’s only entry under Ecuadorian cuisine:

La Choza Grill, 8558 Lee Highway, Merrifield, 1/2 mile west of Gallows, 560-1192.

I like the Seco (lamb stew with rice and potatoes) as well. They’ve added some Mexican dishes to the menu since I have been here last, which is probably a step backwards. But it is still the same owner, and if you live in the immediate area, you will find yourself coming back here.

I found the food to be mediocre (insert joke about Ecuadorian cuisine here). And if memory serves, the restaurant didn’t have my favorite Ecuadorian beer ((Much less Zhumir, Ecuador’s local firewater.)), Pilsener)). So I had to settle for a Pacena, a brew from Bolivia. (Don’t tell my Ecuadorian friends.)


New Thai pizza with bacon and cheese in the crust

Thanks to Austin for mentioning that he recently saw an ad here in Bangkok for the following food product that, I must say, is quite amazing.

It’s called — brace yourselves — the double bacon cheese pizza. And, yes, the crust contains bacon wrapped in cheese.

Thai pizza with bacon and cheese in the crust

You can get it at The Pizza Company, a Thai chain. I haven’t tried it yet. But I just might have to. One interesting detail: it’s served with cheese sauce on the side. (In case you need even more cheese! Presumably there’s no bacon on the side, since there’s “double bacon” in the crust.)

Go to the official Pizza Company site for an entertaining video about this new offering. ((And this reminds me, dear readers, that I have been remiss. I have let you down. I’d forgotten to tell you about another remarkable Pizza Company product that I consumed nearly a year ago. I give you the super jumbo hot dog pizza. It has a hot dog embedded in its crust. You can see photos here and here. I wish I could tell you that I liked it. I consider myself to be an adventurous eater. But…well, it wasn’t for me.))

Long-time readers will recall my previous extreme, hot dog-related eating expeditions:


Matt Gross and multimedia travel journalism

What’s the best way to tell a travel story?

Newspaper and magazine travel journalism, as we know, typically aims to pair descriptive, compelling text with illustrative photography. But what if you add complimentary video and a blog to the mix?

The New York Times‘s Matt Gross — the Times‘s Frugal Traveler — has been producing some really, really good travel journalism over the last few years. ((Disclaimer: I’m lucky enough to call Matt a pal, but I was a fan of his work before our paths ever crossed. In fact, before I ever moved to Bangkok, I ate up his NYT travel stories from Southeast Asia, particularly “To Be Young and Hip in Bangkok.”)) And he’s been doing so using not just well-crafted words accompanied by well-shot images. He’s also been using a blog and sms alerts to connect with his readers. And some of his stories are plotted on Google Maps. There’s even a Frugal Traveler Facebook group (latest count: 1,345 fans).

Matt has traveled around the world in 90 days; he took a road trip across the US; and he re-created the European grand tour. All of his stories are formatted as blog posts, and many of them receive over a hundred comments. In some of the comments, readers give him travel tips on where to go and what to do when he gets to future destinations.

In short, though I’m not a fan of the phrase “Web 2.0,” Matt is a travel writer for the Web 2.0 age.

His stories are not only rich in practical details that are helpful in planning a trip, but his dispatches are often emotionally revealing. For example, during his grand tour last summer, he filed a story called “Tracing Family Roots in Vilnius.” The article describes how he tracked down his Lithuanian ancestors. And the accompanying video (embedded below) is also interesting — but it’s more lighthearted:

The written article, blog post, and images were one story. The video was another.

I also like “Spying on Bucharest’s Cool Underground,” which ran with this video (embedded below):

In the end, I think that traditional newspaper and magazine travel journalism will continue to thrive, as will travel TV shows. These meet a need. But it’s interesting to see how Matt’s work has blended traditional and multimedia elements to create something different entirely.

For more reading, I suggest:


Top 5 Restaurants in Beaufort, SC

I asked my little brother C, who’s a serious foodie, to list his five favorite restaurants in our home town of Beaufort, South Carolina ((Beaufort, SC is my adopted home town; I moved around a lot growing up, but I spent more time in Beaufort than anywhere else. C, on the other hand, was raised in Beaufort and went to college in nearby Charleston, SC. So he knows what he’s talking about. Trust me.)) Here’s what he wrote:

Beaufort, South Carolina isn’t known for gourmet dinner options or haute luncheons. This coastal town does provide options a-plenty for those seeking local comfort food and a healthy dose of southern charm. Here are my picks for must have Beaufort fare.

  1. Blackstone’s Deli — A popular downtown spot, Blackstone’s sticks to tried and true American breakfast favorites. Think blueberry pancakes with a side of sausage patties. For a local touch, try a cup of stone ground grits alongside fried eggs and bacon.

    Blackstone’s Deli
    205 Scott St.
    Beaufort, SC
    (843) 524-4330

  2. Alvin Ord’s — Clearly a favorite among Beaufort’s lunch break crowd. Alvin Ord’s does lunch right, serving classic deli style sandwiches on fresh baked round buns. Be sure to try the Salvation — ham and salami all the way with four cheeses toasted onto the bun.

    Alvin Ord’s
    1415 Ribaut Rd
    Port Royal, SC
    (843) 524-8222

  3. The Shrimp Shack — If you’re interested in going a bit out of the way, The Shrimp Shack is well worth the drive from town. Family owned and operated, the folks at the shrimp shack serve the only shrimp burger I’d ever eat. Because the docks are literally across the highway, fresh local seafood is the standard. Call ahead to inquire about seasonal operating hours.

    The Shrimp Shack
    1925 Sea Island Pkwy
    Saint Helena Island, SC
    (843) 838-2962

  4. Taqueria by Berto — Forced to move from his downtown location, Berto has reopened in Shell Point with a streamlined menu and restaurant. Simplicity is key here; good value and strong flavors make this Mexican eatery stand out. The tacos are an obvious choice though I would recommend an alambre — a mix of sautéed veggies and meats with a hint of pig oil (lard) topped with fresh soft cheese and served over flour or corn tortillas.

    Taqueria by Berto
    Shell Point Plaza on Parris Island Gateway

  5. Duke’s Barbecue — Last, but certainly not least, is my personal favorite. Once a chain across South Carolina, the Duke family barbecue restaurants now operate independently to bring traditional meat and fixins to anyone hungry enough to partake in the twice weekly buffet experience. The Carolina chopped pork is unmistakable and the pork hash will make you forget about any issues you might have with “everything but the oink” cooking. There isn’t a healthy choice on the buffet, so load up on fried chicken, fried okra, fried corn fritters, or anything else that could conceivably be fried.

    Duke’s Barbeque
    3533 Trask Pkwy
    Beaufort, SC
    843 524 1128

Got any restaurants to add to the list? Add ’em to the comments. Thanks, C, for the write-up. Happy eating, all.


Understanding the Subprime Crisis

A few days back, I asked some of my Twitter friends to share some good resources for understanding the subprime crisis and global credit crunch.

  • Wise Kwai suggested The Subprime Primer, a 45-slide presentation using (profanity-spewing) stick figures to illustrate the meltdown. I suggest giving it a read (but be mindful that it’s — obviously — simplified).

    Understanding the subcprime crisis

  • Jay Dedman recommended the helpful This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money, which I’ve mentioned before. It remains an excellent resource, and one that I plan to listen to again.**

    Here are some other links that have caught my eye:

  • “Everything you need to know about the global money crisis of 2007-?.”
  • WSJ: Yes, Dow’s Record Was Year Ago Today, which contains this illustrative infographic. (Click the image for a larger version, or go to the article.)

    WSJ Infographic

  • I’ve read Zimran Ahmed’s blog, Winterspeak, since 2001, and he’s been posting some interesting thoughts on the credit crisis. Here was his take on things last week:

    My prediction: deflation will continue through 2008 and 2009. The economy will continue to contract as consumers reduce consumption (and increase saving, which they must do) and businesses scale back operations so they fit the new, lower personal consumption environment. This will be a slow process, though, as the Fed and Treasury have worked mightily to obfuscate prices, and drag out the bubble deflation. Eventually, Helicopter Ben will say enough is enough and start to (finally) mail freshly printed greenbacks to households. Now we will switch from a deflationary environment to an inflationary environment, China will complete it’s transition out of the dollar, and we will get real, honest-to-God 70s style stagflation. And then we will wait for the next Volker.

    I suggest reading the whole post.

  • is a good source for ongoing news. Thanks to Lan Anh N. for the tip.
  • The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki has a piece called “Public Humiliation,” in which he concludes:

    Considering that Wall Street firms spend all day dealing with the market, they have been slow to understand just how vulnerable they were to it. Companies like Lehman and, earlier, Bear Stearns saw going public as an excuse to take on more risk and act more recklessly, when in fact becoming a public company makes caution more important, since the margin for error is smaller, and the punishment for failure swifter. Now that the government has acted, Wall Street (or what remains of it) may yet be able to regain investors’ confidence. But long-term survival really depends on remembering the fundamental truth about playing with other people’s money: it’s a lot of fun until they suddenly decide to ask for it back.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    **And on a related note, thanks to reader Paul D. for pointing out a NY Times article providing the backstory on how “The Giant Pool of Money” came to be.

    –> What about you? Got some good links to share? Leave them in the comments or email me (newley AT

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    Audio Slide Show: State of Emergency in Bangkok

    Following my previous effort, here’s a 2-minute, 18-second audio slide show I put together after spending some time at Government House today. That’s where PAD protesters are demonstrating against Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Early today a protester was killed and several were seriously injured, which prompted the government to declare a state of emergency.

    Despite the fact that gatherings of more than five people have been prohibited, the protest felt much like a carnival: protesters clad in yellow — a color that represents their beloved King — stood in front of a large stage and listened to various speeches. Others relaxed under tarps and clapped, chatted, and snacked. Riot police stood by a few blocks away.

    “We are fighting against the tyranny of Thaksin and Samak,” one protester told me. “We are willing to give up our lives for freedom.”

    (Note: Those of you reading this via my rss feed will need to click through to view the slide slow on my site.)

    My audio slide show from last week can be found here.